His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover

In Print
The buzz around this series has been so enthusiastic lately that I was anxious to get started on it, and ordered the first two books together. But now that I've read the first one, I'm still debating whether to continue on to the second.

This story is perhaps best classified as a fant-historical. Set during the time of the Napoleonic wars, the main character is a captain in the British navy. However, this is a fantastical version of Earth's history where dragons have served as a traditional part of mankind's war arsenal throughout the ages. Likewise, when Captain Laurence and his ship find a dragon egg on the verge of hatching among the bounty recovered from a French ship, the captain realizes the grave importance and great advantage of bringing this dragon under British control. But a newly hatched dragon needs a handler to domesticate him, and becoming a dragon handler would mean the same thing for any man on Laurence's ship—giving up a career in the navy for the solitary life of an aviator. They draw straws to decide who must accept this grave task, but when the young man who chosen to harness the dragon balks at the hatching, Laurence steps in with courage and poise to domesticate the dragon, and finds himself drawn into a whole new life.

Book Cover

On Audio
I'll start with what I really like about this book—the main character is an adult. It is all too rarely that the hero of a fantasy tale has the poise and the complexity of life experience that guides adult protagonist, Will Laurence, through this novel. In fact, this novel is at its best when it explores the pathos and rewards of Laurence's decision to stick with his new life in aviation. His affection for his dragon, his sense of sacrifice over the life he leaves behind and the surprising relationships he forms with other aviators are the highlights of this book. Central to this novel, however, is the relationship with Temeraire, his dragon. While on Laurence's side of things, this can be interesting as Temeraire becomes the equivalent of a beloved but sentient pet. I do not, however, care a lick about Temeraire's character development, and so much of the novel is spent on Temeraire. Call me a bad fantasy fan, but I don't identify with non-human characters. A humanoid elf? Okay, but a dragon? Sorry, I am not interested in the character development of a dragon, no matter how sentient. Ultimately the story of this novel is a "care and feeding of the dragon" tale, and it is not done in a way that is significantly more interesting than most stories of that type. Novik is a better writer than others who have tackled this type, but the short moments between human characters in this novel were too few for my taste. You have to be a lover of dragon tales to get into this story.

S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.

Alternative Reality Web Zine: ISSN# 1559-3037

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